Nov 182017
 

The Republican House of Representatives’ tax plan would transform “tough enough” into *impossible* for tens of thousands of graduate students who receive fellowships that allow them to study “for free.” (Of course these students also usually teach as well, and those in the sciences do publishable research.)

Like a lot of my friends back in the day, I entered grad school with very little money in my checking account. (My savings account? Ha!) My Stanford University fellowship waived my tuition (about $60K in today’s dollars) and provided me with a small stipend (about $13K in today’s dollars). If my fellowship became a taxable benefit, I would have owed more than the equivalent of $8K/year or so in taxes to the IRS, in effect forcing me to choose between food and shelter – that is, preventing me from attending graduate school all together. (Loans would not have been a smart option for a Humanities student like myself; I had no expectation of getting a well-paying job before I went completely bald.)

Eviscerating the population of American grad students wouldn’t just wipe out generations of young scholars. It would also destroy the main mission of large universities – teaching. No tuition tax break = no T.A.s, no teachers of freshman composition, etc.

I cannot think of a simpler, more perfect way of destroying the standing of United States’ higher education.

 

cross-posted at basil.ca

Nov 032017
 

No Contest co-founder Tierney Wisniewski has written a beautifully conceived and composed Master’s Thesis. Here’s the abstract. [I’ve added some paragraphing for ease of online reading, because abstracts by requirement are very, very fat.]

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a well-established theory of motivation that posits that we grow optimally to the degree to which our contexts afford us autonomy support, the collective term for the ways in which others afford us opportunities to satisfy our basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Although Ryan and Niemiec (2009) suggest that self-determination theory can be “critical and liberating,” I trouble their assertion, making use of literature on student voice, student-faculty learning partnerships, and radical collegiality, and propose that redefining the student role is an essential form of autonomy support if we wish to follow through on SDT’s liberating possibilities.

To that end, I undertook a narrative inquiry into five students’ experiences of transformation through role redefinition in a set of non-traditional university courses.

Participants described their experiences and relationships with peers and instructors before, during, and after this set of courses. A thematic analysis revealed that students experienced their post-secondary courses as largely controlling, with concomitant negative effects on their engagement and well-being, while they experienced these non-traditional courses as highly autonomy-supportive, with concomitant positive effects.

Analysis also revealed that students underwent two transformative processes: an incremental process of integration and a more epochal process of role redefinition. This latter process in particular was fostered through persistent messages that students’ educations belonged to them, through de-emphasis on the instructor-student hierarchy, and through being supported through their struggles with transformation.

Once students redefined their roles, they took more responsibility for their peers’ well-being, offered them autonomy support, and engaged more agentically in other courses by expressing themselves more, taking more risks, and even standing up to and defying miseducative instructors on their own and their peers’ behalves.

They came to perceive themselves as agents of change not only in their institutions, but also in other arenas, following through on the critical and liberating potential of SDT that Ryan and Niemiec had envisioned. This study has broad implications for how educators engage with students and how our institutions are structured, as well as how SDT research is conducted, if we wish to capitalize on this potential.

You can read the whole thing.

I am so very proud of you, dear friend.

Oct 312017
 

A super-smart student in my Advanced Professional Communications class asked me whether using an app that generates a citation for you in proper APA, MLA, Chicago style was plagiarism. My first thought was “I doubt it,” but in my line of work I’m surrounded by plagiarism hounds so I wanted to be sure. I consulted some expert Facebook friends.

My friend Leigh, a high-school librarian working in England whom I’ve known since fifth grade, posted first: “Haha. No. It’s just a tool, wouldn’t you think? Most journal databases (jstor, etc.) provide all variations of citations to use, as well.”

No Contest Communications cofounder Tierney was emphatic: “Goodness no. If you are doing citations correctly, it is not a creative project; it should produce a uniform result. These tools simply help automate that process. I copy and paste mine from Google Scholar, but I also verify their content (sometimes page numbers are missing.” She added this excellent analogy / rhetorical question: “Is it plagiarism to use a tool like SPSS to run your stats and produce your diagrams instead of doing it all by hand?”

Author and retired university librarian Suzy chimed in on a related issue: “There’s nothing wrong with using a citation-generator app to find citations. All journal-content databases make it easier to ‘find’ citations than ever. But a student shouldn’t cite those in a paper unless s/he has actually consulted those sources. I still wouldn’t call it plagiarism; that’s just a failure to check your own sources before citing them – no different from citing a source from a bibliography (the old-fashioned way) without consulting the source.” Suzy noted that the formatting of these automated citations “isn’t 100% accurate, so a student (or professor) should always double-check. For what it’s worth, in my experience, faculty make plenty of errors in their citations!”

Sep 252017
 

“The more that you take care with your writing, the more you might explore uncertainties in your thinking,” suggests Stanford University Environmental Earth System Science Professor Julie Kennedy in this excellent Writing Matters video. Kennedy helpfully stresses the primacy of “owning” your topic before putting pen to paper. There’s no short cut.

Sep 252017
 

… writes MIT cognitive science professor Edward Gibson in Aeon:

Suppose you are at a cocktail party, and your conversation partner – someone with power in your field – wants to know your view about a potentially scandalous issue at your company. You don’t want to divulge what you know, but want the power player on your side. By speaking with a strong accent and using ungrammatical syntax, you can lead your listener to think that you are supporting a politic view while discouraging them from pressing you for more information, because people generally avoid asking a lot of questions of someone whose utterances are difficult to understand. If there is confusion over what you had meant, you can later say you meant to convey something else!

To test the idea that [non-native or second-language] speakers get the benefit of the doubt, my team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had people listen to poorly formed English sentences such as:

  1. The millionaire profited the tax reduction.
  2. The earthquake shattered from the house.

These sentences were spoken either in standard American English, or with a strong Israeli or Hindi accent. Note that each of these sentences is oddly constructed: either the grammar is wrong, or the speaker is saying something strange. In the first example, maybe the speaker meant ‘The millionaire profited from the tax reduction’ or ‘The tax reduction profited the millionaire’. In the second, maybe the speaker meant ‘The earthquake shattered the house’ or ‘The house was shattered from the earthquake’. Otherwise, they are saying that a house somehow destroyed an earthquake, which makes no sense.

After each sentence, we asked our participants to probe their interpretation of these strange sentences. The upshot: when sentences were spoken with an accent, listeners were more inclined to interpret them in the more plausible way, compared with when they were spoken in standard American English. When the sentences were spoken with no accent, listeners were more likely to interpret them literally and assume that the meaning was implausible.

We interpreted this result in terms of a noisy-channel model of language processing. …

Applying the noisy-channel idea to understanding L2 speakers, we can think of the errors in non-native English as a noisier language model than a native-speaker model. Listeners expect more errors and are therefore more likely to think that L2 speakers mean something sensible when they say something implausible. But if a native speaker says something nonsensical, listeners are more likely to take them literally, because they know their language model has less noise.

I absorbed Gibson’s piece with special interest today, having read this weekend, with much delight, discussion-forum posts written by my KPU students on the topic of miscommunication. Several posts brought a smile to my face. And one made me truly laugh out loud. In the latter a student describes an unnerving interaction between a Canadian Border Security officer and herself at the Vancouver airport. My student was congested and her hearing was muffled. When the officer asked to see her “boarding pass,” she thought he was asking “to see my ‘body parts’.” She had to stop herself from running away.

I will never hear either phrase without hearing its near-homonym again.

Sep 152017
 

The always smart Kaylynn Chong at Hootsuite has these six good reminders:

Don’t over-hashtag. “Too many hashtags can make you look spammy or desperate if you’re using ones that aren’t relevant to your post. Even if you gain followers, it’s often the wrong kind of follower—like bots or people only interested in being followed back.”

Don’t hop on trending topics.Just because there’s buzz around a topic, that doesn’t mean people want to hear from you on the topic. If it’s not relevant to your brand and target audience, your efforts will fall flat and you might turn people off.” 

Don’t publish the same message all over the place.Even for your fans that are following you on multiple networks—imagine how strange it is to see the same message over and over again?” Create “unique content for each platform.”

Don’t promote-promote-promote.Social media is a two-way conversation. It’s not the place to broadcast how great your business is—at least not all the time. Social networking platforms are place for people to meet and interact with your brand.”

Don’t keep your social media accounts private.A private social media account can convey many things—laziness? Hiding something? Or, you don’t think social media is worth the investment?”

Don’t automate gratitude.An automated thank-you message can come off as impersonal. … Plus, nobody likes talking to a robot. If they did, why hire someone to manage your brand’s social media handle?”

Jun 072017
 

Jacob Sollum from Reason Magazine’s Hit & Run Blog has a good piece on the topic this morning.

It will surprise no one familiar with Donald Trump’s attitude toward criticism that people who make negative comments about him on Twitter may find their access to his account blocked. If Trump were an ordinary Twitter user, he would be well within his rights to shun anyone who offends him.

But Trump is not an ordinary Twitter user. He is the president of the United States, and he regularly uses his @realDonaldTrump account—which has about 32 million followers, 13 million more than the official @POTUS account—to trumpet his accomplishments, push his policies, attack his opponents, and complain about his press coverage.

In a letter they sent the president yesterday, lawyers for two blocked Trump critics argue that the way he uses his personal account makes it a “designated public forum,” meaning that banishing people from it based on the opinions they express violates the First Amendment.

“This Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional,” write Jameel Jaffer and two of his colleagues at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute. … “The government may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in a designated public forum, but it may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.”

Not so fast?

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh likewise thinks the issue is not nearly as clear as Jaffer suggests. Volokh argues that @realDonaldTrump seems more like a personal project than a government program: “My inclination is to say that @RealDonaldTrump, an account that Trump began to use long before he became president, and one that is understood as expressing his own views—apparently in his own words and with his own typos—rather than some institutional position of the executive branch, would likely be seen as privately controlled, so that his blocking decisions wouldn’t be constrained by the First Amendment.”

We have not, at any rate, been here before.

Jun 032017
 

The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has earned its renown as an experimental – indeed avant-garde – institution; its ‘progressive’ bona-fides have been warranted as well. Back in the day, I explored the possibility of taking a faculty position in entrepreneurship there. Although it didn’t come through, this institution has remained close to my heart.

A recent controversy at Evergreen has made national news and has placed at least one professor as well as students and staff in potential peril. From the New York Times:

[Professor Bret] Weinstein, who identifies himself as “deeply progressive,” is just the kind of teacher that students at one of the most left-wing colleges in the country would admire. Instead, he has become a victim of an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge ideological orthodoxy on campus.

This professor’s crime? He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.

A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Seattle’s The Stranger reports on the “campus lockdown” ordered at Evergreen late this week “after local law enforcement officials received a call with a “direct threat to campus safety'”:

Student activists say they’ve been unfairly maligned. “While it is probably true that some of our strategies were very passionate, they were also peaceful,” an Evergreen student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an e-mail. “And while it might be true there was some ‘harassment’ (a subjective term), it was on the lines of condemnation and scorn, rather than threats and stalking.”

One student, who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns, said death threats to campus activists followed Weinstein’s media appearances. “A swastika appeared on campus. Student personal information was published on 4chan channels and other neo-Nazi and violent racist internet communities,” the student told The Stranger.

Said another student: “Calling these people ‘Weinstein supporters’ would be irresponsible of me. These people are mostly organized racists from off campus that use internet presence, anonymity, and misinformation to disrupt a narrative, and the threat of violence to suppress those who would fight back.”

Professor Weinstein fears that his and other students have been placed at risk:

On Twitter, [he] claimed that his student supporters were being threatened online by his critics. He subsequently tweeted: “I’m told people are doxing those that protested against me. I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, *please stop.* No good can come from that.” The biology instructor also said that Evergreen campus police warned him that he was “not safe on campus. They can not protect me.”

Student demonstrators refuted Weinstein’s claims that their supporters had attempted to dox the teacher’s supporters. They believe the media’s focus on Weinstein is a distraction from their chief concern: ongoing issues revolving around racism, sexism, and transphobia at Evergreen.

Many of Weinstein’s faculty colleagues want him punished.

Look at Bret Weinstein’s “Rate My Professors” page.

Here are some of the demands from students who objected to Weinstein’s published statements .

A member of the State Legislature has introduced a bill to de-fund and privatize Evergreen.

As a professor and as a person with many fond memories of the energetic intellectual and moral debates I shared or witnessed as a young student at SUNY/Buffalo and Stanford University, I find this Evergreen mess dismaying to the point of heartbreak.

cross-posted from basil.CA

May 202017
 

V. told me that when someone [at a meeting to program literary events] proposed a poetry reading by cops who write poetry, another person said, “Yeah, and let’s have a night for poets who beat people up.” – Reginald Gibbons, in Taking Note: From Poets’ Notebooks

I don’t know of any English (or French) language poet who is or was a cop. Many poets have come to us from the worlds of business, medicine, labour relations, prostitution, mining, sports, and combat – but *not* from police departments. I don’t know that this can be said for any other profession.

Further, *lots of poets* have beaten people up. (A couple of these are friends of mine.)

Addendum: My co-editor Tierney introduces me to Sarah Cortez, the exception who proves the rule. – May 22